Nat Starr, a fundraising master with a perennial smile, dies at 90by dan pine, j. staff
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A born fundraiser. That’s how Kathy Starr Levi describes her father, Nathan “Nat” Starr, who for 25 years served the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation in various capacities. “He loved to talk to people,” she said, “and he loved to talk them into giving money.”
The master fundraiser and enthusiastic Jewish community activist died Oct. 6 in Palo Alto, from complications due to a fall. Starr was 90.
Among Starr’s professional accomplishments were serving as federation campaign director and helping to develop the federation’s Peninsula office, which he led in the late 1960s and ’70s.
In later years, he served as director of the Swig Found-ation, volunteered on many boards and was instrumental in fundraising for the North Peninsula Jewish Campus in Foster City, which includes the Peninsula JCC.
A devoted Californian for more than 50 years, Starr was born in a tiny hamlet in Alberta, Canada, later moving to the town of Provost, where he ran the family’s dry goods store. It was there he met his future wife, Betty. They were together for 65 years.
He learned the ropes of being a Jewish professional while serving as the executive director of the JCC in Calgary. In 1961, Starr and his family moved to the Bay Area, first to San Bruno and later to Palo Alto. He accepted a job with the federation while working with a Mission District clothing retailer.
Busy as he was with two jobs, he always had time for his wife and four daughters. Family Shabbats and seders were the norm, with Starr famous in the house for making hand-grated horseradish and hamantaschen.
But he wasn’t all play, especially when it came to his daughters’ education.
“Without our dad we would not have learned how to do percentages or pass chemistry,” said daughter Niki Starr Pope. “He had four girls, and there were never any doubts we would all go to college. He would ask us, ‘What did you get on that test? An A? Why not an A+?’ ”
Gene Kaufman, former director of Sinai Memorial Chapel, began his career at the federation, working with Starr. “I saw him as a wonderful role model,” Kaufman recalled, “and a person who dealt very well with the volunteers we worked with. I would describe him as a person people couldn’t say no to.”
When he wasn’t persuading people to give money to Jewish causes, Starr enjoyed several hobbies. He was a skilled amateur photographer, with his own home dark room, and a world traveler. He loved music and dancing as well.
Though his friends and family will miss him, they know his legacy is assured.
“It was just his charismatic personality,” remembered daughter Niki. “He was a good listener, he liked to tell stories and jokes. He was a happy, positive person.”
Nat Starr is survived by his wife, Betty Starr; daughters Niki Pope, Kathy Levi, Moira Figone and Debbi Parmisano; and eight grandchildren.
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